Work placements can often be the all-important bridge between finishing university and finding a job.
During his Deakin arts/law degree, Simon Suttie was able to gain invaluable experience that not only gave his studies practical context, but led directly to his current role as a Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) lawyer.
Through Deakin’s Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program, Simon undertook a placement at Peninsula Regional Office of VLA where he spent one day a week in court assisting the duty lawyer as a clerk. It was a placement, he says, that gave him the opportunity to build the skills and capacity he needed for the competitive job market.
‘It provided me with a very hands-on experience of the world of criminal law, and I took as many opportunities as I could to develop practical advocacy skills such as interviewing clients, conducting negotiations with the prosecution and appearing on behalf of clients in court,’ he says.
After his formal placement concluded, Simon continued volunteering with VLA where he undertook a further 75-day College of Law work-experience placement after completing his studies at Deakin.
‘Ultimately, I built up enough experience to be offered a job as a lawyer at the Peninsula Regional Office of VLA which I started just a few weeks after being admitted as a lawyer. My studies at Deakin introduced me to VLA and without the student placement program – and the support of Marlene Ebejer who oversees the program – I probably would not have the job today,’ he reflects.
In addition to his VLA work experience, Simon was also able to undertake an internship at the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office (PAHRO) in Africa where he spent two months as a human rights law intern assisting refugees with applications for refugee status.
‘My internship with PAHRO – located in Cape Town – gave me my first practical experience in the field of social justice and human rights and it gave me the base that I needed to propel myself into a career in that field. I was able to gain four credit points towards the international studies side of my degree for that experience,’ he says.
With a lifetime passion for social justice and law issues, Simon says a double degree in international studies and law was a natural fit for his study and career pursuits.
‘Deakin was also ahead of its time in terms of its online learning environment … I was looking for a university that gave me the flexibility to learn independently without the formal classroom structure that I had experienced at school. Deakin was the obvious choice considering the way that it embraced online learning. Essentially I was able to study and submit assignments from anywhere in the world,’ he says.
Simon’s role at VLA revolves largely around criminal law where he works with a diverse range of issues and clients.
‘No two days are ever the same. Criminal defence lawyers in the social justice sector give a voice to those people in our society who are not armed with the resources to deal with their legal issues. Many VLA clients suffer significant mental health issues, substance abuse issues and experience long periods of homelessness. My place in the criminal justice system is to ensure that my clients’ position is advanced to the Prosecution and to the Court to enable a fair and just outcome,’ he explains.
While he’d like to work on international justice and human right issues in the future, for now, Simon is keen to continue ‘learning as much as possible’ in his current role while working towards the advancement of social justice and human rights.
His advice for other students is take advantage of every opportunity that will help build skills for a stand-out resume.
‘Look for opportunities to develop the experience that will set you apart – besides making a difference in the increasingly-challenging jobs market, it will enable you to decide, much sooner, which areas of your field interest you most and which direction you want to take your career.’